PREVIEW: Mary Poppins

Whether you’re five or 95, Mary Poppins is an absolute delight.

The Burns Park Players present a special, family-oriented production of the Disney classic this week, intent on bringing all of Ann Arbor the joy and wonder of the nanny we all wanted for ourselves.

Since its 2013 departure from Broadway, productions of the play can be hard to find. Luckily the talented actors of this local troupe are doing us this service. Plus, the proceeds from ticket sales goes toward funding the arts in schools around town!

Showtimes are:

February 27, 7:30 PM

February 28, 7:30 PM

February 29, 2:00 PM

March 1, 2:00 PM

All at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St.

Ticket prices range from $15-25, with special student pricing of $5 off when you apply discount code SPRINGBREAK at checkout.

Get your tickets here or at the door.

REVIEW: Water by the Spoonful

SMTD’s production of Water by the Spoonful does not deal with light subjects. The play follows a family coping with death, a chatroom for recovering drug addicts, and the way these two groups intersect. Another key point is how Elliot, the son of the deceased Ginny, copes with PTSD resulting from his time spent in Iraq. Though the play finds itself confronting all these difficult situations, it leaves audiences with hope and a heightened sense of one’s priorities.

 

This was my first time at the Arthur Miller Theater. I found its layout really interesting, especially in the context of Water by the Spoonful. The theater is square with the stage at the center. Only a few rows of seats radiate from each of the three exposed sides, both on the ground level and balcony. The performance feels so immediate and three-dimensional when viewed in this way; I could see the smallest changes in an actor’s face, feel the movement of a fight scene, and watch the water fall as it is poured on the stage by the spoonful. When a sizable portion of the dialogue takes place in a chatroom, four different locations need to be created. By angling certain rooms towards different sections of the audience, the staging created this dual sense of dislocation and togetherness in a really interesting and effective way. The section of the stage farther back by the wings was also used in conjunction with an elevated balcony and the central space to explore some of the collage-like overlapping sections of the work. As characters inhabit all three spaces with various lines and music weaving in and out of the scene, the different spatial contexts allowed a type of visual overlapping to coincide with the aural and theatrical pastiches going on.

 

The use of space was intriguing in this work, but what is space if not filled with characters and lines and interaction? The performances in Water by the Spoonful gave life to a plethora of diverse and complex characters. Notable performances include Alyxandra Ciale Charfauros and Vincent Ford as Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders, respectively, as the two bring a realness to their characters that becomes amplified in their back-and-forth conversations. Kyle Prue’s performance as Fountainhead, a man with an addiction who can’t quite face his reality, was also one that I found highly immersive.

 

Ultimately, I found Water by the Spoonful to be a great performance. The material was used in really thoughtful ways in terms of both direction and performance, and I look forward to trekking to North Campus again to see more work in the Arthur Miller theater.

REVIEW: Water by the Spoonful

SMTD’s production of Water by the Spoonful soared beyond all expectations; it went beyond a simple examination of addiction, familial dysfunction, and the human burdens accompanying both, and instead quivered in an unwavering state of compassion, warming my heart in counterbalance. Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play proved to be as patiently restorative as the the metaphor in which its name is based upon – the title refers to a method of hydrating sick children, in which the caretaker must sustain the child with spoonful-sized dosages of water, spaced five minutes apart. If improperly executed, the results can be devastating; Hudes’ work carries an undercurrent of this metaphor throughout. The characters in the plot, be they recovering addicts, mourners, or both, must likewise learn to sustain their individual burdens within life’s fragile constraints, while recognizing the healing properties of interpersonal support and forgiveness.

I perceived the play to be pretty nonlinear; it was only after Yazmin’s monologue about the necessity of ‘dissonance’ that the scenes and characters gradually unveiled themselves to be far more interconnected than their initial, disparate origins. Indeed, the concept of dissonance through Yazmin’s terms clarified my understanding of the play; on the surface, the eccentric crack-addicts interacting within the support chatroom, Ginny’s death, and her two very different mourning relatives seemed dissonant, like chess pieces moving in no relation to one another. Yet it was about halfway through that I conceived of more than just a community death connecting each character’s stories. Rather, the addicts and the Ortiz family are practically interwoven, not only in narrative but also resolved in the sense of universal yearning, grief, and overall, a collective search for harmony.

“Dissonance is still a gateway to resolution.” – Quiara Alegría Hudes, Water by the Spoonful

Beyond the heartwarming characters and SMTD’s moving portrayals of them, I particularly enjoyed the production’s sound and set designs and the little details included in such that effectively highlighted the pure human emotionality running through the piece. Though Hudes writes Water by the Spoonful with dissonance and John Coltrane’s uninhibited jazz music in mind, the sound designers working on this production incorporated these musical concepts especially well in the play’s most emotionally charged moments – like Odessa’s overdose and the abrupt endings of multiple chatroom arguments. In addition, the set designers managed to transform the space from scene-to-scene into vastly different simulated environments, through multiple wheeled components, which I thought was consistently convincing and effective. After all, how does one spatially represent the cyberspace and how people would interact within a “chatroom”?

SMTD’s Water by the Spoonful will be on show at the Arthur Miller Theatre until November 17; I highly recommend going if you have the chance!

REVIEW: Thus Spoke AnnArbor Fall 2018 Performance

I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show.  While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.  After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.

One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.

The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.”  The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed.  The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China.  This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.  

The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second.  Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.

The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless.  With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself.  But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself. 

Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.  

While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.

That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor.  But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off.  I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.

REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Have you ever had your stomach hurt from laughing so hard one second and then holding your breath, trying not to cry the next second? That was me Friday night as I sat in the Arthur Miller Theatre, a room completely tense and enraptured as it awaited the judgment on Judas Iscariot — a traitor, a follower, a son, an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a human.

I read The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in my creative writing class last semester, so I already knew how good this play was. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s ability to craft a work that is simultaneously light and heavy is a marvel in of itself, and one I greatly appreciated when I studied it.

However, I was not prepared for SMTD’s production of this play. This 18-person cast found itself waddling through a script as dense as osmium and managed to give the theater a collective headache that was frequently alleviated with the hearty laughter that this play relies on to carry its extremely deep message.

As a contemporary play, the updated references from 2005 in the script, as well as the wardrobe and music choices, brought a fresh take on this still-relevant work that is religious in every aspect and completely more than religion at the same time.

Everyone put their heart, mind, and soul into their character, and their dominant presence on the stage made the stage disappear and brought these characters to life. They nailed every monologue (and boy, were those some monologues!) and beat and intricate detail of a personality that made each character unique.

In purgatory, we catch glimpses of complex souls and the competing narratives of stories and the duality of humanity. The dynamic between the short-tempered judge struggling to find his truth and the incompetent and innocent bailiff struggling to find an acceptable case for the judge was hilariously captured by Ben Ahlers and Josh Strobl as Strobl ran around trying to appease the demands being barked at him.

The courtroom atmosphere was enhanced by the questioning that the condescending, flirtatious El-Fayoumy and the cold, determined Cunningham intensely fired back and forth. Alexander Sherwin made me comically uncomfortable with his over-the-top approach to law and flattery, and Kat Ward’s command of the courtroom in his presence was a victory for all women. Speaking of women — Mikaela Secada completely dominated the fierce and sassy Saint Monica, and her scene is a beautiful example of the complexity of the nature of emotions an individual can harbor, her nagging attitude and honest compassion making her monologue surprisingly and ultimately human.

The penultimate scene with Judas and Jesus is heartwrenching. As Liam Allen and Mason Reeves explored the depths of despair in a plea just imploring for love and forgiveness, I felt my heart stop and time froze as the pure emotions being displayed on the stage was too much and too real. Allen and Reeves completely nailed this powerful moment, and their sincerity and intensity made this play that much harder to watch and grapple with — which is a testimony to the entire cast’s talent and ability.

We make our own choices. And those choices inherently include sins. What we do with those sins — the emotional acceptance necessary of our actions — is also up to us. If anything is to come afterward, we must first be able to forgive ourselves and believe in ourselves before we can look around for forgiveness from others and believe in others.

I could go on and on about this production and the cast and crew, but I recommend you go see it for yourself. This authentically raw performance by SMTD is one that will forever be stuck in my heart as I continue to wrestle with the moral, philosophical, theological, and psychological problems this humorous and dramatic masterpiece poses and this cast so wonderfully performed .

PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/ or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.